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What is Polyphagia?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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Polyphagia is the condition of eating too much. The amount that is appropriate to eat is somewhat individual, depending on a person's size, metabolism, and culture, and so polyphagia is generally marked by an increase in the amount of food a person eats or the hunger he or she experiences. This condition is a symptom, not a disease itself, and can be caused by a number of factors including anxiety, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes. It may also be considered a component of bulimia. Isolating the cause of a person's polyphagia is the first step to getting rid of it and all the complications overeating can cause.

A person with this symptom does not eat for biologically sound reasons, and will often eat so much that vomiting or stomach pains are experienced. If a person routinely eats so much that he or she is in pain, then even if the eater considers this activity normal, he or she has polyphagia. The eating may even have characteristics of a compulsion, much like one to clean or repetitively stack items, wherein even the act itself is not pleasurable but cannot be stopped by the person. Subjective experiences of polyphagia differ greatly for each person depending on the motivation for eating too much.

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The term polyphagia is not often used to describe single instances of overeating, such as might occur at Thanksgiving in the United States or during other food-focused events. Rather a pattern of overeating over time is considered a symptom of this. Certain conditions are associated with polyphagia, including Kleine Levin, Bardet Biedl, and Prader-Willi syndromes. Much more commonly, this symptom is associated with diabetes, as increased thirst and hunger accompanied by frequent urination are the classic signs of diabetes. Pregnancy is also associated with polyphagia, but this form is generally accepted and expected culturally, while it may not be truly healthy for either the mother or child.

Eating disorders may also involve periods of polyphagia. Bulimia, in particular, is often characterized by eating too much, sometimes called binging. In these cases, the binging is often followed by compensatory behavior of some sort, such as induced vomiting or use of laxatives. Other times, the binging simply results in weight gain and depression about it.

A person who overeats due to a disorder will often gain weight just like someone who overeats out of gluttony. Drastic weight gain is dangerous to a person's health and can have negative effects on self-esteem. While it may be unpleasant to stop eating when one's body is still craving food, it is important to control one's portions in order to avoid these dangerous effects of overeating.

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